The political instability that has paralysed the country in recent years, as well as the growing presence of Wagner Group mercenaries, complicates the increase in Libyan gas production and exports.
The presence of mercenaries on Libyan soil has been a reality that, practically since the beginning of the first civil war in 2011, has marked the future of the North African country.
However, the beginning of the Russian “special military operation” in Ukraine in February 2022 has marked a turning point for the mercenaries attached to the Wagner Group.
A Russian company whose aim is none other than to consolidate Moscow’s presence on the continent and work to defend the interests of the Eurasian giant.
And the production and export of Libyan gas does not escape these interests. The war in Eastern Europe has put the old continent’s energy vulnerability on the table, and as the EU-27 face the countdown to a winter without large gas reserves, Libya seems to be out of the options for replacing Russian supplies.
This is explained by the presence of Wagner’s mercenaries in locations very close to the gas wells in the east of the country.
The two main Libyan gas extraction fields are located in territories controlled by the Wagner Group, or by its local partners and allies, such as Marshal Khalifa Haftar, in the east of the country.
Thus, the al-Wafa field, 500 kilometres southwest of the Libyan capital Tripoli and close to the Algerian border, and the al-Fargh field, near the eastern city of Ajdabiya, with the largest production plant for domestic consumption, are outside the central control of the Government of National Unity headed by Abdel Hamid Dbeibé.
However, in the hands of the Dbeibé government in Tripoli are the al-Bouri field (estimated to have reserves of around 10 billion cubic metres) and the Bahr al-Salam field, as well as the offshore fields off the west coast in the Mediterranean.
The al-Wafa field, in the southwest of the country, is one of the main points of production and export of Libyan gas abroad through the Green Stream pipeline, which connects the North African territory with the Sicilian coast in Italy.
These infrastructures, together with the country’s large amount of gas reserves, and before considering Wagner’s influence, led to the idea that Libya would be one of the great alternatives to Moscow’s supplies.
At present, with the exception of Algeria, Libya is the only African country with a gas pipeline connecting the two continents, which would bring down gas prices compared to transporting Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) by ship, as is already being done from the US, Egypt and Nigeria.
Furthermore, and despite the fact that its exports do not exceed 5 billion cubic metres of gas per year – only 3.3% of the amount exported by Russia to Europe, and 10% of Algeria’s total exports to the old continent – and all of which are carried out via Green Stream, Libya is the fourth largest gas exporter in the whole of Africa.
A position that now seems to be shaken after the discovery of new gas reserves and fields in Egypt, Mozambique and Mauritania, which – much more politically stable, and free from the presence of the Wagner Group – could replace Tripoli’s role as an exporter to Europe.
The political and social instability that plagues the country is another reason why the European community has not fully placed its trust – in energy terms – in Libya.
Although the North African territory increased its total gas production between 2020, the year in which the ceasefire was signed between the East and West factions, and 2021, the truth is that this increase was very slight, rising from 12.1 billion cubic metres per year to 12.4 billion cubic metres per year.
However, the closure and blockade of oil and gas fields has been almost constant since the beginning of the clashes between the western government of Dbeibé and the eastern faction of Haftar and the Tobruk parliament, which rejects the extension of Dbeibé’s mandate as prime minister.
These oilfields have often been used as a bargaining chip and an element of pressure against the Government of National Unity, forcing it to put exports abroad at risk in order to be able to meet Libya’s domestic consumption.
For all these reasons, and as long as production and export figures are not able to increase – something complicated in view of the rather deteriorated installations and scant foreign investment – and as long as a solution to the internal political conflict is not found, Libya’s role as a world gas supplier will remain in the background on the international stage for several years to come.